Here’s a statistic to ponder: Going into this weekend, nearly 60 percent of Southeastern Conference games this season were decided by nine points or less. Nearly one in every four league games came down to the final possession.
This makes for compelling basketball drama and … a greater likelihood of controversial calls.
As longtime SEC referee and later supervisor of Atlantic Coast Conference officials John Clougherty put it, “When I was supervising, I was hoping for 20-plus-point games.”
Kentucky knows first-hand about SEC competitiveness and the possibility of controversy. Of UK’s first eight league games, six had a final margin of eight or fewer points. Three came down to the last possession. And in the two relative blowouts, the Cats led Mississippi State by only five points with more than three minutes to go and trailed at Tennessee by eight with two-plus minutes remaining.
As for controversy, Kentucky has been both victim and beneficiary. UK fans cried out for justice when no foul was called on PJ Washington’s attempt to score a tying basket in the final seconds against Florida last weekend. And Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy bemoaned the “bear hug” that he suggested Wenyen Gabriel got away with in preventing the Aggies’ attempt at a winning basket on the final possession of the Jan. 9 game.
Former Alabama Coach Wimp Sanderson said he thought Florida’s Jalen Hudson fouled Washington. “There’s not any doubt,” he said. He found the non-call astonishing, though not because of contact involved.
“You never ever see — in all my years of coaching — the foul that should have been called on the team opposing Kentucky not called,” Sanderson said. “You can see the one (Doug) Shows missed (on Gabriel) because they all say, ‘Oh (shoot), that’s Kentucky. That’s the way it goes.’”
UK Coach John Calipari was restrained in stating his belief that the Florida player clearly fouled Washington.
Clougherty was not so sure Hudson fouled Washington.
“It looks like a foul,” he said. “However, it’s not as easy as Cal says it is. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, the ball is blocked. Then the (Florida defender’s) hand comes off and hits the shooter in the face.”
Most people would agree that fouls in the final seconds should be obvious, if not egregious. “Officials are trained to not guess,” Clougherty said of final-second calls. “Unless they are absolutely sure, they should default to the no-call.”
SEC Associate Commissioner Herb Vincent said the league does not comment on judgment calls. Nor does the process in which calls are reviewed in real time at the league office involve judgment calls. In other words, the SEC does not reconsider whether or not a player committed a foul.
This is wise, Clougherty said. Of reviewing judgments on, say, block-charge calls or contact on drives, he said, “That would be endless.”
The SEC hired Terry Moore, a former NCAA referee with 30 years of experience, as Coordinator of Men’s Basketball Replay. From the league office in Birmingham, Ala., he reviews referees’ decisions, but only those already subject to review on a sideline monitor by game officials (for example, correct time on the clock, determining if a shot was a two- or three-pointer, deciding which team should be awarded possession when the ball goes out of bounds).
The hope is that the added layer will speed the review process and lead to more accuracy.
There is no appeals process. But coaches are free to send video of questionable calls and/or speak to Coordinator of Basketball Officials Mark Whitehead.
In the case of the finish to the Florida game, Calipari did not bother to call Whitehead or send video. He all but said it would not do any good.
“Consistency is all I’m looking for,” he said. “Sometimes it’s OK to be consistently bad. Just be consistently bad. That’s fine, too.”
Players and coaches can adjust to consistently bad.
How often do coaches send videos and/or want to talk to the head of officials?
“In my tenure, there were coaches that I never heard from,” said Clougherty, who coordinated ACC referees for 11 years. “Never.”
Some coaches called only when they believed they had conclusive evidence that a referee made a mistake.
“And I had a few that called all the time,” Clougherty said. “They called any time they lost. And they would be sending clips. When they send 12 to 15 clips in, that has no credibility to me.”
Clougherty also had a rule. No calls nor sending video until the next day. Why such a rule?
“Because they’re not rational,” he said of coaches. “They’re not. They’re emotional. They want to choke the referees. There’s nothing that’s going to be accomplished.”
An obvious question: If there’s no appeal process, why do coaches call the supervisor to complain?
“Sometimes they just need a place to vent,” Clougherty said.
Sanderson said he wanted the referee held accountable for a mistaken call or non-call. He suggested that the SEC hold three-way conference calls involving the coach, the referee and the supervisor of officials. That way the coach could hear the supervisor scold the referee.
In Sanderson’s time as Alabama coach (1980-81 through 1991-92), a former coach, John Guthrie, was the coordinator of SEC officials. Sanderson sounded skeptical that referees were held accountable.
“We just called John and raised hell,” Sanderson said. “And he claimed he raised Cain (with the referee). But he probably didn’t. He probably said to me, ‘Wimp, I’m going to take care of it.’ But when he hung up, he said, ‘(Shoot), Wimp (complains) all the time.’”
Going to West Virginia, Kentucky had made at least one three-point shot in the nation’s longest active streak of games: 1,033 straight. This was a source of pride for fans, but what did it mean in terms of winning and losing?
During the streak, there were 26 games in which Kentucky made only one three-point shot. The latest was on Jan. 16 at South Carolina (1-for-11).
UK’s record in those 26 games was 22-4. And one of the losses was by one point: 68-67 to Mississippi State on March 4, 1989.
During his radio show Monday, John Calipari referenced Kentucky’s losses to South Carolina and Florida by saying he had received a call earlier in the day.
“Somebody said, ‘When was the last time you lost two in a row?’” he said. To which, Calipari said, “I can’t remember.”
To find UK’s last two-game losing streak, you have to go all the way back to the dusty, distant past of 2017. Kentucky lost at Tennessee on Jan. 24, then lost at home to Kansas on Jan. 28.
Kentucky came close to losing four straight last season. After losing to Tennessee and Kansas, UK needed overtime to beat Georgia on Jan. 31 before losing at Florida on Feb. 4.
Matthew Fisher-Davis, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the first game against Kentucky, is not the only player Vanderbilt will be missing in Tuesday’s rematch in Rupp Arena.
With its struggles defending around the basket, Vandy speaks of missing Luke Kornet. Kornet, whose Lexington ties go back two generations, is Vandy’s career leader in blocks (210). He also gave the Commodores the unusual threat of good perimeter shooting by a 7-foot center.
Kornet is playing for the Westchester Knicks, the G League affiliate of the New York Knicks. Going into this weekend, he was averaging 16.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks for the G League team. He had made 45.2 percent of his three-point shots.
More on ‘mystique’
Leftovers from last week’s note about the “mystique” of programs such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas affecting referees:
▪ Arguably the most memorable example of UK’s mystique affecting the officiating came 30 season ago. Ed Davender pushed UNC Charlotte’s Byron Dinkins out of bounds rather than concede a game-winning layup. The call? Traveling on Dinkins.
▪ Charlotte’s coach, Jeff Mullins, was a Lexington native. He stayed in town for a few days after the game. He recalled going Christmas shopping the next day.
“People would stop me and say, ‘We always want Kentucky to win, but not that way,’” Mullins said.
▪ Mullins attended Kentucky’s practice the next day. “(Then UK Coach) Eddie Sutton asked me to come by and explain a couple things we did inside,” Mullins said. “Our center had a really good game.”
▪ Charlotte plans a 30th anniversary reunion for its 1987-88 team. The players will be recognized at next Saturday’s game. Not because of the controversial loss at Kentucky. That team played in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 13 seed. It lost its first game 98-92 in overtime to Brigham Young.
Then and now
Byron Dinkins has become an ultra successful high school coach in North Carolina.
Now in his eighth season, he won his 200th game earlier this season. As of about two weeks ago, his career record as a coach was 205-28.
Dinkins coached for Northside Christian for six seasons, and now is in his second season at Carmel Christian.
His Northside Christian teams won state championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Among the players he’s coached are Kennedy Meeks (who went on to play for North Carolina), James Demery (St. Joe’s) and Desean Murray (Auburn).
Former UK All-American Tony Delk will be holding a youth basketball tournament next spring. A second annual Tournament of Champions is planned for April 6-8 at the Kentucky Basketball Academy in Lexington.
The event is open to boys from grades two through 12. The entry fee is $250 per team. For teams entering before March 6, the entry fee is $200.
More information is available at tonydelk.com or by calling KBA at 859-219-9272.
To Chris Mills. He turned 48 on Thursday. … To Tony Delk. He turns 44 on Sunday (today). … To Josh Carrier. He turns 35 on Tuesday. … To Rick Robey. He turns 62 on Tuesday.